'Gutted' but not shocked — 39-year employee says Kawerau paper mill was terminally ill

Bruce Habgood has worked at Tasman Mill for about 39 years. 

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Bruce Habgood, who has worked at the mill for about 39 years, says there is a sense of mourning around the closure. Source: 1 NEWS

He began his apprenticeship there, doing fitting and turning, before being "kept on" and taking up various maintenance roles over the years. 

A delegate for union E tū, Habgood told 1 NEWS news of the mill's closure at the end of June — announced yesterday — had led to a sense of mourning at the Kawerau site. 

Although he and his about 159 colleagues had been expecting it for a number of years, he likened the mill to being a terminally ill relative.

"You know it's going to happen. Every month or every year that goes past, you think how fortunate you are that you've had that opportunity, but at some stage reality kicks in and you realise there is finality about it and this is it."

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The mill's owner, Norse Skog, said yesterday the closure was down to the "secular decline of the newsprint industry", which had been exacerbated by Covid-19.

Yesterday, Kawerau Mayor Malcolm Campbell said the mill's closure was a "kick in the guts" for the local community, with about 30 per cent of the mill's workers living in the town. 

Norse Skog's regional president, Eric Luck, acknowledged yesterday its decision was "disappointing" and "sad" and described the mill's closure as the "end of an era".

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Tasman Mill wraps up production at the end of this month, resulting in 160 redundancies. Source: 1 NEWS

"I would like to acknowledge and thank everyone who has worked at and for the mill over the last 66 years. It has certainly been an important contributor to the local and national economy."

Habgood said the fallout from the mill's closure would be wide, reckoning contractors and other businesses would be affected. 

"It's going to feel like death by a thousand papercuts," he said of the affect on the wider community. 

"Every one that's gone, it's another cut, it's another lost opportunity. There's been generations of people, of families, that have worked in this place or places like this, who have been given opportunities, and unfortunately those opportunities aren't going to exist anymore."

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Norske Skog, the multinational owner of Tasman Mill in Kawerau, announced in September that it was reviewing its operations. Source: 1 NEWS

Like others, Habgood admitted he was scratching his head and asking himself: "Now what?"

He said he would need to have a good think about what it was he could do and what was available. 

Asked how he was feeling, Habgood replied: "Personally I'm gutted to think that some of the opportunities that I've had aren't going to be available to others.

"Unfortunately for some people, because of their age or skillset, the reality is they may never work again and that's a real tragedy, because unfortunately, people don't see that.

"They think everyone may exit and go into another job because there's plenty of jobs. Well, it's not like that. Regional New Zealand isn't booming as well as other places when it comes to job opportunities.

"Unfortunately there's going to be a lot of people that I've worked with over the years who may never be able to work again."

The Tasman Mill commenced newsprint production in 1955 and has produced more than 15 million tonnes of paper during its 66-year history.